Sitting on the plane to Sydney Australia still feeling surreal, I am trying to unwind the past 37 days living and working in the Fiji Islands…time rewinds back to two months ago, I was about to graduate from Columbia Business School’s full-time MBA program:
Friends: “Plans before you start working?”
Me: “Going to Fiji to help start a new micro-finance business.”
Friends: “Wow awesome…where is Fiji?”
Those were the common reactions: Where is Fiji? What are you doing there? How did you land this opportunity? Most people probably only know of Fiji from the bottled water in the cover photo, so here are some quick house-cleaning items.
Where is Fiji:
13-hour flight from Los Angeles
An archipelago nation of 330 islands and ~900,000 in population, ~57% Indigenous Fijians and ~38% Indo-Fijians
What exactly am I doing:
My work is to help South Pacific Business Development (SPBD), the largest Micro-finance Institution (MFI) in the South
Pacific region, start a new business in Fiji (cannot disclose what at this time).
The central deliverable is a detailed business plan to be submitted to the Reserve Bank of Fiji. Aside from the requirements by the regulators, internally it is critical for us to answer a number of key questions: 1) What would be the appropriate corporate and organization structure for the new entity, and what are the regulatory requirements? 2) How would the new entity be capitalized? 3) What products/services would the new business offer? 4) How to operationalize it? 5) How does the financials look? Could the new entity be commercially viable?
Diligent and pragmatic business planning is the first step to achieving success and creating benefits for the people that the micro-finance business aims to serve.
How did I land (create) this opportunity:
It took some relationship building and pooling of different resources, but in the end I owe it all to my now Alma Mater Columbia Business School. Without the networking resources of Columbia Pangea Advisors (the student-run non-profit consulting group, of which I am a board member and SPBD a long time client) and the generous fellowship offered by the school’s Tamer Center for Social Enterprise, I would not have had the opportunity to embark on this amazing journey, mint all the beautiful memories, and leave as a more enriched person.
Thoughts coming back to this moment, Fiji is but a continuation of a larger journey that I started two years ago. Since CBS, I have been to 10 different countries – Japan, Singapore, Dubai, Israel, Iceland, India, France, Kenya, Canada, and now Fiji and counting (some for leisure and some for projects). Before Columbia? Only China and U.S. For years, I have been a narrow-minded person toiling away trying to build a life (you know, being an immigrant is hard :D), but not knowing how to live one. I think the time at Columbia has permanently shaped how I live life, how I approach travel, and how I see/interact with the world:
- Money is essential, but one does not need much physical possession to be sustainably happy (learned this in Kenya from the Massai, and reinforced by my interaction with the Fijians.)
- Life is short, there are few things worth spending LIFE doing. Spending quality time with quality people, doing meaningful things is what I want and what makes me happy (learned this perspective from Lei Zhang from Hillhouse Capital, the Fiji project certainly fell into this category)
- If possible, try not to be a spectating TOURIST, but be an immersive GUEST. There are many people living life very differently from us, and these lives deserve respect and are worth learning; Immersing yourself, you live many mini-lives through other people’s eyes.
- Maintain and spread a positive spirit, once you open yourself to the world, the world will open itself to you.
With Fiji, I am happy to say that I have accomplished my project mission and my objective to deeply immerse myself with the local culture. It is truly a fortune and privilege to be taken in by the locals as part of them.
But before delving in deeper, some photos to start the appetizer of the multi-course meal that is Fiji.
Arrival (Landed on June 6th, exactly 12 years after I moved to the U.S.)
With SPBD Fiji, Suva office staff members
With SPBD Founder Greg Casagrande and SPBD Fiji General Manager Rico Munoz
United Nations Interns
SPBD Fiji Team Building Retreat